From Ellicott City to Columbia to Scaggsville, Howard County residents felt their houses shake and their beds rattle and roll late last night to the area's third -- and most powerful -- earthquake in less than a week.
The jolt hit at 11:30 p.m., and registered 2.7 on the Richter scale -- a ripple by California standards, but a jolt to the nerves on the Howard home front.
No damage or injuries were reported. The quake's epicenter appeared to be in the Allview community.
Of the three jolts this month, last night's was the biggest.
County police and fire telephone lines were jammed in minutes with at least 500 reports of an explosive noise, rumble or shaking, and the question from startled, frightened and just plain curious callers: "Did we just have another one?"
Waverly Person, of the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo., said the quake was recorded by seismometers in New York, New Jersey, Virginia and Delaware.
"The Columbia section of Maryland is having a series of minor earthquakes, and it's simply a natural phenomenon," he said.
He said the quakes do not involve the violent shifting of the Earth's plates. He could not say when or if another earthquake would occur in Columbia because of the infrequency of quakes reported there and in Maryland in general.
Mr. Person said the fault in which last night's and the two previous earthquakes occurred is far under ground and is not on any fault maps in Golden.
"We really can't pinpoint their exact location, he said, "but the people who experience them certainly can."
"Unbelievable," said Julie McQuie, of Tall Trees Court in Ellicott City, who called The Sun. "It literally shook the whole house." "It felt like the house was shaking," said Jan Davies, on Bullring Lane in Columbia's Stevens Forest neighborhood. "I wish I had earthquake insurance now. They don't encourage it in this area."
Anna Watring, on Kerry Hill Court in Columbia's Owen Brown section, said the latest quake felt more like an explosion than the first one, and it seemed bigger.
Several other callers agreed that last night's jolt seemed the most powerful of the three.
The first earthquake, registering 2.5 on the Richter scale, struck at 9:32 a.m. Wednesday, and lasted less than five seconds. It was believed to have been centered near the intersection of Routes 108 and 175 at the entrance to Columbia.
The second jolt was Thursday at 7:54 p.m., and was thought to be a 2.0-rated aftershock.
Mr. Person said last night's epicenter appeared to be 15 miles southwest of Baltimore -- near the general area of the other two.
Howard County public safety officials thought the epicenter to be similar in all three quakes -- and judging from last night's calls, pinpointed the Allview community as the most likely location of the latest shake.
Al Czolba, of the Federal Communications Commission in the 7900 block of Oakland Mills Road, said he was on duty when he heard what sounded like a low-flying plane.
Seconds later, he knew otherwise.
Eileen Ray, of the 6900 block of Seneca Drive, said she was watching television when her house shook.
"I jumped to my feet and knew exactly what it was," she said.
Robert Burns, of the 6200 block of Golden Hook in Columbia, said he and his wife were asleep when both were awakened at 11:30 p.m.
"This is our third earthquake . . . " he said, "and we've become used to having them."